By Tess Fahlgren
On a stark prairie landscape, a man in Native American “fancy dance” regalia plays keyboard then beats a hand drum. Vibrant beads and long tassels adorn his bodice, leggings, breechcloth and feathered bustle.
Capturing the sounds on a microphone, he loops the recording as a woman in a traditional, beaded dress and moccasins begins to dance. Bells sewn into the fabric jingle to the beat of her steps. Then, in a husky voice, the man begins to rap in Crow. This is Supaman, accompanied by Acosia Red Elk, in his latest hit music video, “Why.”
A native Apsaalooke from the Crow Indian reservation in southeastern Montana, Christian Takes the Gun Parrish, aka Supaman, released the recording late one night in September 2015, and is confident in its success. Indeed, the video had 1.7 million views on Facebook by mid-November.
“Good music is going to go where it’s going to go,” Supaman says.
The song, inspired by Jadakiss’s 2004 release of the same title, mirrors the New York-based rapper’s questions about hardships in life. Supaman’s “Why” lyrics focus on the prevalence of substance abuse and broken homes he witnessed at an early age on the reservation. His parents were alcoholics and he spent a difficult childhood in foster care.
“I’ve been drug and alcohol free my whole life,” Supaman said in an interview after a riveting performance during the TEDx convention at the MSU-Billings campus in October 2015. “At a young age something clicked in my mind and heart and I decided I’m never going to be that person.”
Despite popular perception, American Indians have one of the highest rates of drug and alcohol abstinence in the nation. But, Supaman says, that kind of control is necessary. “It’s harder for us, [because of] the oppression from the traumatic experiences our people had,” he says. “[It] carries on for generations. Alcohol and drugs take your mind off things when there’s no hope.”
Instead of turning to substance abuse, Supaman found hip-hop music and heard a voice for his people. “The ghetto, the rez,” he says, “there are similar struggles.” At the time, he was committing petty crime, breaking and entering, and theft. “[We were] influenced by gangster rap. But that life was short-lived.”
This was the late-‘90s, the Golden Age of hip-hop, and turntablism was growing. When Supaman heard the rapper Litefoot – famous as “Little Bear” in the film The Indian in the Cupboard – on the radio, he realized other Native Americans were adopting the hip-hop sound.
Supaman loved the scratch of a needle on a vinyl record. In 1997 he bought a turntable with the money he made working on a hotshot fire crew out of Helena, Montana. “I practiced for hours and hours,” he says, “until the paint was coming off the mixer [under] my fingernails.”
He sent a demo to Litefoot, who was also drug and alcohol free, and the duo began touring in 1999. The relationship cemented Supaman’s positive lifestyle, and he says that tour molded his future.
Now, 20 years later, Supaman performs around the globe and sees evidence of a miseducation about his culture in each place. “Native American people,” he says, “all of us, everywhere, we get questions all the time.” When Supaman was in New York City performing in the 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, people wondered: “Do you live in a teepee? Do you ride horses every day?”
With every performance, Supaman aims to reverse cultural misconceptions and inspire audiences with his music. “You can do anything in life that you want to,” he says. “You are in control of your happiness. Once you know that, it’s enlightening.”
Supaman’s new album, “Illuminatives,” will be released on New Year’s Day 2016.